Autobiographical statement written for the 2000 Biography from Eighth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators:
"Although I was born in New York City, I did most of my growing up in small towns in Pennsylvania. My mother and father were business people, and I am the middle of three daughters. I graduated from high school in Farrell, Pennsylvania, and then worked as a bookkeeper in a wholesale meat plant. One of the owners had a brother, David Konigsburg, who would sometimes visit the office.
"Having saved enough money to start college, I entered Carnegie Institute of Technology (now called Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh. At the time David was a graduate student of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and taking courses in testing. I was subject #14 for the Stanford-Binet and subject #8 for the Wechsler I.Q. Tests. I graduated with honors; and David Konigsburg married me. (I had played it safe and refused to take the Rorschach.)
"At the time I wanted to be a chemist, so I worked in a laboratory and went to graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh. After David received his doctorate and moved us to Jacksonville, Florida, I taught science at a private girls' school. I began to suspect that chemistry was not my field when I became more interested in what was going on inside my students' heads than what was going on inside the test tubes. I finished teaching a few weeks before my son Paul was born. Then came Laurie, and then Ross.
"We moved from Florida into the metropolitan New York area and I took art lessons on Saturdays at the Art Students League. When Ross started kindergarten, I started writing. I wanted to tell about the suburban kids, comfortable/uncomfortable kids, that I had taught once and that I was raising now. The ideas for my books come from people I know and what happens to them. From places I've been and what happens to me, and from things I read. Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth was based upon what happened when my daughter was the newcomer to our apartment house in Port Chester, New York.
"One day I read in the newspaper that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City had purchased a statue for $225. Even though they did not know who had sculpted it, they suspected it had been done by someone famous in the Italian Renaissance. They knew they had an enormous bargain. (The real statue is not an angel, and it was not sculpted by Michelangelo. It is called Bust of a Lady).
"The summer after that article appeared in the paper, our family took a trip to Yellowstone Park. I decided that we should have a picnic in the park. After buying salami and bread, chocolate milk and paper cups, paper plates and napkins, and potato chips and pickles, we got into the car and drove and drove but could not find a picnic table. So when we came to a clearing in the woods, I suggested that we eat there. We all crouched slightly above the ground and spread out our meal. Then the complaints began. The chocolate milk was getting warm, and there were ants all over everything, and the sun was melting the icing on the cupcakes. This was hardly roughing it, and yet my small group could think of nothing but the discomfort.
"What, I wondered, would my children do if they ever decided to leave home? Where, I wondered, would they go? At the very least, they would want all the comforts of home, and they would probably want a few dashes of elegance as well. They would certainly never consider any place less elegant than the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And then, I thought, while they were there, perhaps they could discover the secret of the mysterious bargain statue, and in doing so, they could also learn a much more important secret--how to be different on the inside, where it counts.
"Winning the Newbery Medal for Mixed-up Files gave me the courage to write about unusual people in unusual places--people like Eleanor of Aquitaine in A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver and Leonardo da Vinci in The Second Mrs. Giaconda. Readers let me know they like books that have more to them than meets the eye. Had they not let me know that, I never would have written The View from Saturday.
"I had started writing a story about a young man named Ethan Potter who boards a school bus the first day of sixth grade. The bus takes an unexpected turn, and a strangely dressed young man boards and sits down next to Ethan. He introduces himself as Julian and explains that his father is about to open a bed and breakfast inn--a B and B. At that point, I left my desk and took a walk along the beach. (By this time we had moved back to Florida.)
"When I write a book, I more or less start a movie in my head, and there I was doing a re-run of what I had written. When I got to where Julian was telling Ethan about the B and B, I remembered that I had a story in my files--my mixed-up files--about a young man named Noah whose mother insists that he write his grandparents a bread-and-butter letter, a B and B letter. That made me remember another short story I had about a dog named Ginger that plays the part of Sandy in the play Annie. And that led me to another story about an Academic Bowl team.
"Before I had finished my walk, I realized that all those short stories were united by a single theme. Taken together, they reinforced one another, and the whole became more than the sum of the parts. I knew that kids would love meeting one character and then two and three and four, and I also knew--because I had learned it from them--that they would think that fitting all the stories together was part of the adventure.
"Now that my children are grown up I sometimes use my grandchildren as inspiration to write picture books for younger children. I live on the beach in North Florida and when I am not writing I love to draw and paint, to read and walk along the beach, and I also love going to the movies. I have never returned to the chemistry lab, but all the years I spent there were not wasted. I learned useful things: to use the materials at hand, to have a point of view, to distill."
Elaine Lobl Konigsburg made a remarkable debut in children's books by winning the Newbery Award for her second book, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler while her first book, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, took Newbery Honors in the same year, 1968. From the Mixed-up Files also won a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1968 and the William Allen White Children's Book Award in 1970. Nearly thirty years later, Konigsburg received a second Newbery Medal for The View from Saturday, and in the intervening years she published a long list of books notable for their quirky characters and inventive plots.
It is fitting that the plot of Konigsburg's first Newbery winner centers around a statue that may have been sculpted by Michaelangelo, for in many ways she is a bit of a Renaissance person herself. A scientist by training, she took art classes for a hobby, and eventually illustrated many of her novels and, later, all of her picture books. She reads widely and her interest in language is evident in the witty dialogue through which her characters reveal their personalities. A recurring theme throughout her novels and short stories is finding a sense of self. In From the Mixed-up Files Claudia leaves home to establish a sense of her own importance. Jennifer, of Jennifer, Hecate . . . , teaches Elizabeth how to find her sense of self. In Throwing Shadows, a collection of short stories that was nominated for an American Book Award, each story can be understood in light of the theme of self-discovery.
Konigsburg has experimented in her writing by exploring unusual settings and challenging characters. Her historical novels, about Eleanor of Aquitaine (A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver) and Leonardo da Vinci (The Second Mrs. Giaconda), were developed after a great deal of research into the time periods and personalities of these historic figures. Her essays on children's literature, collected in TalkTalk, are also inventive and reflect her interests in art and science as she has brought those disciplines to bear on her perception of books and reading.
In more recent years, Konigsburg has been writing and illustrating picture books featuring her own grandchildren in Samuel Todd's Book of Great Colors, Samuel Todd's Book of Great Inventions, and Amy Elizabeth Explores Bloomingdale's. Her earlier novels have been adapted for television. In 1973 Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth was televised, retitled Jennifer and Me. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler appeared in an adaptation in 1995, and the 1990 television adaptation of Father's Arcane Daughter was renamed Caroline?
In 1999 E. L. Konigsburg received the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She lives with her husband in Jacksonville, Florida.
Works by subject:
Selected works: Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth, 1967; From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs.Basil E. Frankweiler, 1967; About the B'Nai Bagels, 1968; (George), 1970; Altogether, One at a Time, 1971; A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, 1974; Dragon in the Ghetto Caper, 1974; The Second Mrs. Giaconda, 1975; Father's Arcane Daughter, 1976; Throwing Shadows, 1979; Journey to an 800 Number, 1982; Up from Jericho Tel, 1986; Samuel Todd's Book of Great Colors, 1990; Samuel Todd's Book of Great Inventions, 1991; Amy Elizabeth Explores Bloomingdale's, 1992; T-Backs, T-Shirts, COAT, and Suit, 1993; The View from Saturday, 1996.
Works about subject:
Suggested reading: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, vol. 3, DATE; Children's Literature Review, vol. 1, DATE; vol. 47, DATE; Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, vol. 59, 1998; Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 52, 1986; Gallo, Don, ed. Speaking for Ourselves, Too, 1993; Konigsburg, E. L., TalkTalk, 1995;Major Twentieth Century Writers, 1991; McElmeel, Sharon, 100 Most Popular Children's Writers, 1999; Pendergast, Sara, ed. St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th ed., 1999; Silvey, Anita, ed. Children's Books and Their Creators, 1995; Something About the Author, vol. 4, 1973; vol. 48, 1987; vol. 94, 1998. Periodicals--Jones, Linda T., "Profile: Elaine Konigsburg," Language Arts, February, 1986; Konigsburg, E. L., "Newbery Acceptance Speech," The Horn Book, August 1968, July/August 1997; Scales, Pat, "E. L. Konigsburg's The Second Mrs. Giaconda: An Update," Book Links, March 1996. An earlier profile of E. L. Konigsburg appeared in Third Book of Junior Authors (Wilson, 1972).
Profile of E.L. Konigsburg copyright © H.W. Wilson Company.
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